Jo Lapira, aspiring change maker


Josephine Anne Santiago Lapira, 22, a 4th year BS Biochemistry student from University of the Philippines (UP) Manila was one of 15 fatalities in the encounter between government forces and the communist New People’s Army in Nasugbu, Batangas on Tuesday night, adding to the death toll of student activists in the country.

Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said Lapira, from Marikina City was one of five female fatalities killed in the clash. He added that Lapira died while being treated at Jabez Hospital in Nasugbu at around 2:30 a.m. after the encounter with the military troops.

Jo, as friends call her, was known to family and friends as a defender of the oppressed. She served as secretary-general and deputy secretary-general for campaign and propaganda of Gabriela Youth in UP-Manila; and had always been at the top of class.

In a phone interview with The Manila Times, Josh Bata, one of Lapira’s early friends from the UP-Manila said,
“She has been an advocate of women’s rights. She would also lead discussion groups about women’s issues as well. She was also an advocate of LGBT rights.”

However, Bata does not think that Lapira was part of the NPA.

“I don’t know if she was really a red fighter or an NPA. And Jo, probably because I’m no longer active in the movement, didn’t tell me that she was already going CS—a term used by activists to mean ‘countryside,’ referring to those who eventually choose to become a guerrilla along with peasants in poor rural communities,” another friend, Cleve Arguelles said in a tribute on Facebook.

“But I won’t be surprised if she did join the NPA. It’s not hard to imagine what things pushed her to leave the university, to turn her back from a comfortable life and to enlist herself in the armed struggle…once you’ve opened your eyes to these kinds of things, it is impossible not to feel rage for all of the injustices in this world,” Arguelles added.

Al Omaga, a friend of Jo, described her as a “selfless youth leader” and a “grim and determined activist” who was never absent in local demonstrations chanting her signature pitch, “forward women, fighting and militant!”
Lapira spent six years in college—a year in her first course, BA Development Studies—and five more in BS Biochemistry in preparation to taking up medicine.

“Just a year more and she could have graduated, but she chose the road less travelled,” Omaga wrote.
Lapira became a full-time activist early this year and went on to traverse the mountains of Southern Tagalog in August, said Omaga.

Lapira fought for the rights of women and children, for free education, on societal and gender issues, and human rights.

“Jo, however small, lived a worthy life dedicated to pursuing big questions,” Arguelles said referring to her as someone who has dedicated her life to principled causes and to noble aspirations. “Jo is not Jo without her feminist politics, without her revolutionary passion,” he added.



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